The year was 1988. I was an up and coming non-Equity actor making my first appearance at Next Theatre. I played the one-armed Little Machine-Fixer in an original adaptation of e.e. cummings’ The Enormous Room. Among our four Jeff nominations, I was particularly proud of the one we received for Best Ensemble.
Late last fall, I was saddened to learn that Next Theatre had closed its doors. The company had a terrific run in its 34 years. It produced a lot of great plays. Jeremy Piven and Stephen Colbert were but a couple of the talents I had the great good fortune to call castmates.
But like a lot of small arts groups, Next Theatre cycled through a series of ups and downs. Re-reading an old review of David Hare’s Knuckle, in which I also appeared, Richard Christiansen observed, “It`s an excellent production, one of the best the rebounding Next troupe has mounted in some time.”
So, what finally happened at Next? At Luna Negra, Theatre Seven and Chicago Chamber Musicians: three other groups that ceased or suspended operations within the past year or so. The reasons arts groups end can be varied. Sometimes they simply run their course. Sometimes, they fall victim to particular challenges on stage or in the admin office, or both.
In my current role as Chicago Program Director for the Foundation, I’ve seen quite a few small arts groups struggle with the nuts and bolts of running an organization. That’s why we launched Gen Ops Plus – a combination of general operating grants PLUS an array of capacity building opportunities to help arts groups address operational issues before they become life-threatening.
It’s a sad thing when any arts group comes to an end. But it’s fitting, too, that we remember and celebrate the artistry so generously shared with us, as Next Theatre did for three and a half decades. And so, I leave you with “Le Jam,” a sketch done by artist and fellow castmate, Ron Crawford, depicting the entire Enormous Room cast.